A delivery truck with purple wings flying through the sky.

One of the main components of running an effective ecommerce business is being able to surprise and delight your customers at every step of their customer journey. Shipping subscription boxes reliably and quickly is one of the most important things you can do to enhance the customer experience from the moment they purchase your product.

With giant online retailers, like Amazon, offering same-day or next-day shipping at no cost to the buyer (if they’re using Amazon Prime), merchants are up against a new expectation from shoppers. While it’s unrealistic for customers to expect the same from brands they subscribe to, merchants must create the best experience through the shipping process to compete. 

Getting subscription box shipping right

There are many decisions a merchant must make before a box is even sent to a customer. What kind of mailers or boxes will you use for your product? Are sustainable shipping practices an option? Will you offer free or discounted shipping for subscribers? How can you ensure your shipping process is cost-effective for your business? 

  1. Choosing the right vessel for your products

There’s a delicate balance between keeping your shipping prices low while also giving your customers a great unboxing experience. Choosing packing materials that are lightweight, like envelopes or poly-mailers, can help you save money, but they also have the propensity to rip during the shipping process. Choosing a custom box gives customers the immediate delight factor, but can be a more expensive option.

  1. Weighing the sustainability option

Sustainability has become a huge focus for consumers in the last decade. Especially, as buyer generations skew younger—Millennials and Gen Z—the importance they place on sustainable shipping practices increases substantially. They are even willing to pay a premium for shipping, as long as it follows environmentally friendly practices. 

  1. Providing shipping discounts to subscribers

Part of the benefit of being a subscriber is receiving additional value from a brand. Many merchants offer free shipping to their subscribers to entice them to regularly and repeatedly make purchases. As a subscription business grows their subscriber base, the reliability of recurring revenue can allow for savings on shipping costs for their customers. 

  1. Choosing the right shipping services for the right cost

It can be easy to default to the cheapest service for shipping your subscription boxes to customers. But oftentimes, cheap doesn’t always mean the best. Every ecommerce merchant has unique needs to get their packages to their customers in a timely and reliable manner. Find a highly reliable shipping provider that can handle fulfillment in the ways you need it the most.

The top 4 shipping carriers

Every ecommerce merchant will have different needs and preferences when it comes to shipping carriers. USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL are the most popular carriers for subscription box shipping. Each has different delivery times, shipping rates, and restrictions on the weight and size of packages. 


USPS is a great option for shipping lightweight items. It’s typically the least expensive carrier, with the lowest rates for items under two pounds. Their Priority Mail Cubic pricing model is also based on volume, not weight, for items under 20 pounds, so merchants can often find better pricing than with other carriers when shipping heavier items. 

Note that while USPS has gotten better in recent years, they are still slower than other carriers and unreliable in certain areas of the country––which might affect how quickly they arrive in your customers’ hands. 

2. UPS

Merchants who need to ship heavier items or more expensive items often use UPS. Where USPS has a maximum weight of 70 pounds, UPS doubles that for a maximum shipment weight of 150 pounds. UPS also ensures products up to $50,000, making it a more reliable choice for luxury items like jewelry, watches, and furniture.

3. FedEx

FedEx is a premium service that many merchants use, especially for same-day or overnight shipping. With their options for refrigerated and cold shipping and fast and reliable delivery times, FedEx is often the preferred choice for ecommerce food merchants. 

4. DHL

DHL is a global delivery company that specializes in international shipping. They have a wide network of local locations, and they’re one of the most reliable options for shipping packages abroad. If you’re shipping in the US, DHL is likely not the right choice for you due to its shortcomings in reliability and tracking. 

Specialty cases for shipping

For ecommerce merchants with specialty items, it’s imperative to review the regulations of each shipping carrier. 

Wine merchants, for example, cannot ship via USPS due to their regulations against alcohol. Instead, they must use UPS and FedEx, both of which allow alcohol and heavier shipments. 

Merchants selling cannabis products are even more highly regulated by each shipping carrier. CBD products need to be tested and regulated for acceptable levels of THC before they even make it to the carrier for shipment. 

Packaging also comes into play with specialty items. Do your subscription box products need to be refrigerated? Do you need extra padding or dividers to prevent damage? What are the unique requirements to ensure your product gets to the customer quickly, safely, and intact?

Considerations for ecommerce shipping

There are a number of different considerations that go into choosing the right ecommerce shipping carriers. 

  • Cost: How much does it cost? Are there any additional fees to ship subscription boxes? Are you using cubic pricing or pricing by weight? Are custom boxes worth the investment or is it better to use pre-priced boxes, like USPS Priority Mail? Are you eating the cost of shipping to provide your customers with a free shipping option? 
  • Dependability/deliverability: Does this carrier have a high average deliverability rate and good customer service? Are there guarantees of delivery that you can confidently communicate back to your customers? Do you have a good tracking system you can rely on? When will the package arrive if you ship through this carrier? Can you or your customer track it in real-time or do you need to wait for an update from your carrier whenever something happens with the shipment? Will shipments make it to destinations that are in more remote locations?
  • Access: Is this carrier easy to use and understand? 
  • Customer support: Does the carrier have good customer support? Can you speak to someone if you need help, or do you need to go through a ticketing system and wait for an email response? 

Shipping is one of the most important elements of your ecommerce business. You can have a great website, amazing products, stellar customer support, and a solid mission, but if you don’t have reliable shipping options, it could negate all of the hard work you’ve put into building a strong subscription business.


[1] Logistipedia (Logistipedia)